Appreciation – Dion Jayasuriya
We first met Nearcus Dion Jayasuriya on the first day of Fifth Form in January 1966 when he and a few others including R.G.A. Perera, S.T.B. Jayasinghe, S. de S. Jayasinghe, B.R. Ranaweera and D.T De. S. J. Gunawardena joined our grade – as the inimitable MC Arun Dias Bandaranaike quipped at a class get- together in March this year, ‘for reasons best known to themselves’.
A classmate L.R. Aponso recently recalled how in Form 5A, R.S. Fernando, N.D. Jayasuriya and he, had been ordered to ‘stand up on the form’ by the teacher. To the uninitiated, this meant that all three had to remain standing on the long three-seater bench they shared, as punishment for a misdemeanor until the master saw fit to allow them to be seated again. After the trio had been upstanding for some time, the lanky Jayasuriya, in his customary knee length blue shorts, had asked
Aponso how many periods ‘this gentleman’ had that afternoon. On being told that the master had three consecutive periods, Jayasuriya had nonchalantly sat down saying that he ‘couldn’t be bothered standing on the form for that long’.
Two years later in Upper Sixth, N.D. Jayasuriya, K.H. Samarasinghe and the writer shared a three seater desk and bench. 1968 was the year of the Mexico Olympics in which Jim Hines of the US ran the 100 metres in 9.9 seconds. Jayasuriya kept us enthralled with the happenings of the games, and proved to be very well informed. Students in Upper Sixth were required to haul huge text books in preparation for the upcoming Ordinary Levels. This somehow never bothered ND as he only ever carried two of the flimsiest available exercise books to school. It was also in Upper Sixth that ND gave us the exciting news that his older sister had been awarded an AFS scholarship to the US. After her return, Hiranthi, who was a brilliant student at Visakha, entered the Colombo Medical Faculty.
After leaving school, Dion had a stint at Pure Beverages before joining Carson Cumberbatch and Company Limited. By this time, Dion then in his mid-twenties, had matured into a very well read, intelligent, personable young man with a penchant for marketing. His success with the Michelin and Carlsberg brands was perhaps the catalyst to him being one of the youngest ever executives to be appointed a Director of Carson Cumberbatch and Company.
Some years later, when the opportunity arose to acquire a subsidiary of Carson’s, CML Edwards – a team headed by Dion and Sega Nagendra, a highly respected corporate leader, took on the challenge and ventured into the construction industry. Dion, who had great analytical skills and was brilliant at numbers, grasped the business quickly, and the company grew steadily under his leadership. The cornerstones of their corporate philosophy were integrity, transparency and good governance.
Around this time Dion had set up his personal ‘pension plan’ for retired domestics, drivers, golf caddies, and friends and relations who had fallen upon hard times. Even when business was tough, particularly during the time of the war, the company policy of paying employees’ salaries on time was very strictly adhered to. He took it upon himself to ensure that the book lists of children of all members of staff were paid for by the company every year.
When the dreaded disease struck Dion in June this year, his family and friends were devastated. Sherouza, Dimitri and Nadira did everything humanly possible to ensure that Dion had the best possible medical attention. A team of tireless, dedicated specialists made themselves available around the clock. After the initial shock wore off, Dion decided to take his illness head on. During walks at Galle Face on ‘good days’, he had to be reminded to slow down, and at times be told that he should not try to jog. His ailment gradually wore him down physically, but his mind remained as sharp as ever. Evenings were mostly spent in the TV room watching IPL, tennis, rugby, movies, and the news channels. Umma would sit quietly in her favourite seat nearby. His little brother Udenaka would visit him regularly and the two would reminisce about trips the Jayasuriya family made in their Borgward Isabella.
Dion had obviously inherited the intellect of his father M.D.F. Jayasuriya, a classics scholar and a President of the Chess Federation. Denzil Jayasuriya, Executive Director of United Tractors and Equipment, had been a school contemporary and close friend of legendary teacher D.N. Pereira. Dion’s counsel was often sought by his siblings, friends, relatives, businessmen and even heads of schools. Though not an overtly spiritual person, he had an English translation of the Dhammapada on his office desk which he referred to from time to time. He understood that the principle of impermanence applied to all living beings, and he came to terms with the inevitable. His transition from this existence to another, occurred very peacefully in the early hours of December 18.
Dion Jayasuriya has left a legacy of honesty and integrity, of friendship and sincerity, and of empathy and generosity. Sherouza, Dimitri, Nadira, his siblings, friends, relations and employees have a challenge ahead of them. Life after Dion.